So just how much of an impact does one player have on a lineup? The St. Louis Cardinals are about to find out. Last year, the Cardinals’ offense ranked in the top five in the majors in runs, average, and on-base percentage, which is absurd considering there’s not a designated hitter in the National League.
Most would agree that any NL team in the top five in the majors in all those categories must have a deep lineup and a solid bench. The Cardinals certainly did in 2011. Six of the team’s eight everyday starters hit .296 or higher, with the exceptions coming from the middle infield positions. And when it was all said and done, they had a player in Allen Craig that many players, coaches, and fans thought would be starting on just about any major league team other than the Cardinals, who were already set with Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, and Jon Jay.
That’s why I was a little taken aback when I heard the following from ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk: “The X-factor for the Cardinals this year is Adam Wainwright. We know this team is going to struggle to score runs; you just don’t lose the best hitter in the game and expect to have the same production.”
Struggle to score runs? Really? The thought had never even occurred to me. Yes, the Cardinals will be without Albert Pujols and you can’t easily replace his production and impact on the rest of the lineup, but does that mean the Cardinals will “struggle to score runs” without him?
Take a look at the Cardinals’ projected lineup and ask yourself if it looks like they’ll struggle to score runs:
1) Rafael Furcal: .255 avg, 7 HR, 16 RBI (*numbers after trade to St. Louis)
2) Carlos Beltran: .300, 22 HR, 84 RBI
3) Matt Holliday: .296, 22 HR, 75 RBI
4) Lance Berkman: .301, 31 HR, 94 RBI
5) David Freese: .297, 10 HR, 55 RBI
6) Yadier Molina: .305, 14 HR, 65 RBI
7) Allen Craig: .315, 11 HR, 40 RBI
8) Skip Schumaker: .283, 2 HR, 38 RBI
The only difference between last year’s lineup and this year’s will be Albert Pujols replaced by Carlos Beltran. Last year, Pujols hit .299, 37 HRs, 99 RBI. With Beltran, the Cardinals pick up a point in the average column and lose 15 HR and 15 RBI… so essentially 15 solo home runs. That’s nothing to scoff at, but nothing that would make you think the sky is falling either.
Of course, we haven’t taken into account the “Pujols factor” yet. This is the impact players and managers say Pujols has on the rest of the lineup just by his mere presence. Opponents have long said “we always knew how far away number five was from coming up to bat, whether he was due up 3rd, 5th, or 7th at the start of the inning.” A quick example of this happened in the first inning of Game 7 of the World Series. In an interview with MLB Productions, Lance Berkman suggests one of the turning points in the game that ultimately cost the Texas Rangers the lead and the World Series was when pitcher Matt Harrison pitched around Albert with no one on and two outs in the bottom of the first inning. Harrison had recorded the first two outs with ease, but after pitching around Pujols he walked Lance Berkman on four pitches. Berkman said he thought Harrison lost his release point while pitching around Pujols, and subsequently walked him as well. That brought David Freese up to the plate with two on and two out, and Freese drove a fastball into the left-centerfield gap to tie the score at two.
So there’s an example of two runs the Cardinals, in theory, got last year that they will not be getting this year. No one will be pitching around Matt Holliday with no one on and two outs to help jump start a rally.
So the question is: just how much will the Cardinals miss Albert Pujols this season? Will they really go from a top five offense club to one that “struggles” to score runs? Or with the addition of Beltran and fewer injuries, will the Red Birds continue to put crooked numbers on the board at a high clip?
The answer may be somewhere in between.
One thing is for sure, this season will be unlike any we’ve seen in the past 15 years. The Cardinals have featured one of the game’s premiere deep-threats in the number three hole every year since 1997… first Mark McGwire, then Albert Pujols. Matt Holliday certainly has a tough act to follow as the new anchor of the Cardinals’ offense.